Haverford College Black Students' League's campaign to eradicate institutionalized racism 1972

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Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
Anti-racist activism has occurred in waves from the sixties through to the present; however, this particular campaign is constrained to this period
Location and Goals
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Haverford, Pennsylvania
Location Description: 
Haverford College
To eradicate institutionalized racism at Haverford College. (paraphrased from a 1971 letter to the Board of Managers of the college.)

As Haverford College became more racially diverse in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the actions of minority students protesting against discrimination became increasingly visible.

One common discriminatory practice that black students protested was that of “carding.” Unprompted, campus safety officers, local police officers, and white students would ask black and Puerto Rican students to prove their student status by presenting their college identification cards. The Black Students’ League protested this practice by standing outside of the dining hall and “carding” white students in return.

In 21 May 1971 letter to the Board of Managers, members of the Black Students’ League outlined their complaints to the college. These included the college’s summer camp for black youth from nearby South Ardmore, the disparity of discipline associated with comparable violations of college policy by black and white staff members, the deteriorating condition of the Black Cultural Center, and the failure of the Students’ Council to allocate funds for Black Students’ League projects.

They also alleged discrimination by an unnamed athletics coach towards his black athletes—a mistreatment which prompted these students to threaten to boycott their athletic contests unless the coach changed his behavior.

Although this letter was read to the Board of Managers later in May, no concrete outcomes resulted at this time.

On 24 and 26 January 1972, the Committee on Student Standings and Programs convened to examine the cases of several minority students. The students were then dismissed from the College for academic reasons. The committee followed up on these decisions with a statement to the faculty on February 3, expressing concern that minority students were asked to leave the college for academic reasons at a disproportionate rate.

Later in the day on 3 February, students assembled for a regularly-scheduled session of the Students’ Association, with the agenda focused largely on upcoming student elections. At this meeting, a representative of the Black Students’ League announced that the organization would be boycotting the upcoming election. This marked the beginning of the Black Students’ League’s general boycott of all non-academic activities. The remaining students at the plenary opted to postpone the elections in response.

The Administrative Advisory group announced 4 February that the observed pattern of dismissing minority students on academic grounds required a change of policy. The statement argued that the college should either stop admitting students who might be academically disadvantaged by their educational, social, racial, ethnic, or economic backgrounds, or should modify college policy and structures in order to enable the academic success of a broader range of students.

The deans met over that weekend, 5-6 February, and sparked further controversy and outrage by proposing an “Educational Commitment Program.” On Monday 7 February, administrators, student council, and the academic council discussed the deans’ draft program. They noted that the proposed measures to boost academic success among minority students were conceived without input from the Black Students’ League, Puerto Rican Students at Haverford, or any other minority students’ groups.

The document was shown to the Black Students’ League for the first time on Tuesday, 8 February. In response, the Black Students’ League broke off all formal negotiations with the college administration.

On Wednesday, 9 February, the Black Students’ League released a formal response to the “Educational Commitment Program” document. Their document, entitled “Several Concerns, or a Bill of Facts” included a point-by-point critique of the plan and highlighted the total lack of minority student input into the plan’s conception. In this critique, students also spoke out against the homogeneity of the student body and the limited and stereotyped roles on campus that minority students were constrained to.

In response to this action by the Black Students’ League, as well as smaller actions of individual students, the deans withdrew the Educational Commitment Plan document on Thursday, 10 February.

That same day, there was a special meeting of the faculty to discuss the 3 February statement of the Committee on Student Standings and Programs and the Black Students’ League’s “Bill of Facts” document. Nearly all members of the Black Students’ League came to this meeting and then staged a walkout in protest.

The Black Students’ League escalated their protest actions, picketing some faculty and administrative homes on Saturday, 12 February. On Tuesday, 15 February, the Black Students’ League assembled for a silent and massed vigil before, during, and after that week’s Campus Collection, a weekly Haverford event derived from Quaker traditions of community.

Two days later members of the Black Students’ League and Puerto Rican Students at Haverford held a silent vigil at the entrance to a special faculty meeting. In this meeting, faculty opted to divide themselves into discussion groups to examine the issues raised by the Black Students’ League statement.

White students voiced opposition to the actions and statements of the Black Students’ League, some even going so far as to publish their own statements regarding what they perceived as the “real” racial problems at Haverford.

The Black Students’ League issued another declaration on Sunday, 20 February, in response to white students and administrators. In a memo entitled “Our Specific Concerns,” the Black Students’ League released a list of twelve “symbolic gestures” for the college to enact by 5:00 P.M. on 25 February. These gestures focused on attaining better academic support for under-prepared students, altering search procedures for academics coming to campus to ensure diversity among faculty and visiting lecturers, and changing the college budget, governance, and hiring procedures to better support increased racial diversity at the college.

This list was added to on Tuesday, 22 February, when Puerto Rican Students at Haverford published their own statement of specific concerns, including 4 additional “symbolic gestures” asking for better support for students’ language needs and for a critical re-examination of the José Padín scholarship for Puerto Rican students.

On Wednesday, 23 February, Haverford College president John Coleman spoke at a Special Collection. In his speech, he voiced regret for the lack of minority student input in the “Educational Commitment Program” document, as well as for the lack of consideration paid to the initial questions posed by the Black Students’ League in their “Bill of Facts.” Coleman made a commitment to altering college governance structures, saying that both the College Council and the College Forum “must be re-worked” in order to ensure that they served to institutionalize diversity and representation for all students.

President Coleman promised to make re-allocations within the 1972-1973 budget, which had already been settled, and made some commitments intended to partially address the list of 16 “Symbolic Gestures.” In particular, his commitments focused on increasing consultation and collaboration with minority students when making decisions related to faculty, college and financial aid budgets, employment conditions at the college, and college governance.

On Friday, 25 February, the college administration released its official written response to the 16 “Symbolic Gestures.” As a further symbolic action, John Coleman timed the release of the administration’s response to the 16 Specific Concerns so that it would be released to the Black Students’ League and Puerto Rican Students at Haverford two hours before it was released to any other members of the community.

The primary outcome of this campaign by the Black Students’ League and Puerto Rican Students at Haverford was the establishment of a pre-college summer program for minority students and hiring a person of color to administer it, two items which the Black Students League had demanded specifically in their list of 12 gestures. In addition, John Coleman oversaw the re-allocation of $50,000 from the 1972-1973 college budget to finance new programs and faculty.

However, the newly hired Director of the Pre-Freshman Summer Program was seen as “a person to solve all problems,” and very few other faculty of color were hired. Many student concerns went unresolved and little change occurred until a further student campaign in 1976.

Research Notes

A 1976 campaign by the Black Students' League and other minority student groups examined the successes (and failures) of the 1972 campaign in planning their efforts. (2)

Stevens, Robert, president. The Sprit and the Intellect: Haverford College, 1833-1983. 1983, Haverford.

Lewis, Meredith. “Calling Shots: Diversity Part II: The Boycott and Repercussions of 1972.” The Bi-College News. Web: 5 December, 2000.

“Black Students’ League,” parts 2 and 3. Presidential Files of John Coleman, 1970-1973. Special Collections, Haverford College.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Mar Firke 02/02/2014